It may not be the most familiar quote in the history of motion pictures, but Dustin Hoffman’s rendering of the line to Anne Bancroft in the film The Graduate has got to resonate with most aficionados of the medium. Now, central Texas theatergoers have the opportunity to hear that line in a masterful theatrical production on stage at The City Theatre.
Under the direction of Tracy Arnold, Tim Ashby and Tracy Hurd take on the iconic roles of recent graduate Benjamin Braddock and of sex-hungry Mrs. Robinson in this adaptation by British playwright Terry Johnson of the 1963 novel by Charles Webb and of the 1967 film script by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry. The plot and premise of The Graduate is kind of serious — recent college graduate has affair with unhappy older woman, humiliates older woman’s daughter but then falls in love with her, runs off with daughter to uncertain future — but it’s definitely a comedy. And both Ashby and Hurd know how to handle the transitions from the dramatic to the comedic. Their back-and-forth banter, as the worldly Mrs. Robinson tries to take advantage of the innocent Benjamin, is both tension-filled and droll, laugh-out-loud by turns.
Hurd, in a mother-daughter dialogue with the young Elaine, played sensitively and effectively by Angelina Castillo, demonstrated her acting chops by showing motherly warmth and understanding. Later, when she tried to protect Elaine from what she felt were the lascivious advances by Benjamin, she showed she could be the mother tiger protecting her cub.
Ashby, in the strip club scene, as he tries to dissuade Elaine from any further connection, is appropriately cruel and Castillo reacts wonderfully to this totally unexpected attack. The effectiveness of this scene, however, was diminished slightly as the accompanying music for the strip tease was at a volume that made it difficult to hear the dialogue — not to mention the fact that the dance itself by Heather Ann Howes was in itself a distraction.
This scene, designed to depict a seedy, low-class joint, complete with resident drunk (Phillip Smith) and a bartender (Dax Dobbs, in one of three roles) who took a sip of Benjamin’s beer before placing it on the table. This action was very subtle, amusing, and is the kind of business created by a director that makes a production extraordinarily good.
Speaking of theatrical business, there is some brief nudity in the play. The actual nudity was handled realistically. At one point, however, with both actors nude under a sheet, they were required to reach down on the floor, get their underwear, and put it on while continuing the dialogue. This seemed to be understandably awkward for them to do, and it was somewhat distracting to the audience as well. (And this comment is what is known as a “quibble.”)
In their roles as the other parents, Larry Oliver and Christina Little-Manley, as Mr. and Mrs. Braddock, and Scott Poppaw, as Mr. Robinson, provided strong support to the principals. They were appropriately comedic without being over-the-top. Little-Manley, in particular, was delightful as the 1960s mom who really wasn’t sure of what was going on.
Credit goes to Andy Berkovsky, The City Theatre artistic director, for his effective set and lighting design. And credit also to the crew who made numerous scene changes quickly and efficiently in semi-darkness with minimal disruption to the pace of the performance.
The Graduate continues at The City Theatre, 3823 Airport Boulevard, Austin, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 5:30 p.m. through May 10.